Vernon's housing crisis is causing a dangerous issue for women trying to survive domestic violence – and those who help them.
The Archway Society says the housing market is impeding its work.
“We have clients who are staying at the transition house for longer periods of time because we can't get them into housing, and the housing is often why women will return to the abusive relationship,” says Micki Materi with the society.
“Housing has always been an issue, but it's at a crisis level now.”
Monica Kreise with Archway says when women can’t find housing and need to stay at the society's transition house longer, it can have ripple effects.
“We do our utmost to not let them go back where they are unsafe or harmed, but then that impedes our ability to help another person.”
She says the society does its best to find a safe space in the community for women to go when their rooms are full. There are transition houses throughout the North Okanagan they can go to.
Materi says the society has helped 1,250 women in the Vernon area between April 2022 and March 2023.
Domestic violence increased across Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic, and Archway says numbers haven't dropped.
“The stress of the pandemic and then women being further isolated from friends and family, and those that could lay eyes on them, as you might say, and being kept in their home with their abusers, so there was definitely an increase,” explained Kriese.
“Post pandemic, we're still seeing increased incidences of domestic violence as well as increased incidences of sexual assault, sexualized violence.”
Not only have numbers remained heightened post-pandemic, but Materi says she’s seen an increase in the intensity and severity of assaults.
There also seems to be quicker escalation, where shorter-term relationships are experiencing assault without buildup.
“A lot of times, we see these relationships, they're kind of long term (and domestic violence) has been happening over time, and there's kind of an escalation over time,” says Materi.
“But now, there seems to be sort of faster escalations, where it just will go from dating, to moving in, to, next day, serious assault.”
Why these increases are happening, Materi isn’t sure.
“That's the big question: why do men figure they should be able to just beat on women and get away with that?”
Especially, she said, since the systemic response from organizations like the RCMP has improved. But, she said long wait times to get into the court system remain an issue for survivors.
The rising cost of living and the stress and anxiety around making bill payments could all be playing a factor into the more frequent domestic violence.
Help is available through the Archway Society 24/7 and is free. Archway can be reached by phone at 250-542-1122, or visit their website for more information. The Government of Canada lists supports and resources online.